Rocks on the Foreshore by John Brett was not dated, but art historians like Hillary Morgan presume that it was painted in the late 1860s. Brett depicts a Ruskinian landscape, the melding together of several studies painted from nature. Brett was a pupil of Ruskin and adhered to the idea that art should be created from natural observation. Only from this method of working from sight can the artist tap his imagination. Brett's fascination with science is apparent in the meticulous depiction of the crags and chasms in the Oceanside rocks. The subdued, naturalistic hues of the work enhance its photo-realistic character. The wispy clouds in the distance combine some of the earth tones seen in the rocks and sand in the foreground, enhancing the feeling that this is a scene painted from life rather than from a preconceived notion of what a seaside landscape should look like.

Questions

1. Art historians such as Christopher Wood suggest that Rocks on the Foreshore is a Ruskinian landscape. Based on the work of Ruskin that we read in Modern Painters, do you agree that this painting adheres to Ruskin's ideals of the artistic portrayal of nature?

2. Brett's landscape is unlike a great deal of the other early Pre-Raphaelite work in that there are no figures or animals present, and certainly no narrative. What aspects of the work would make it identifiable as Pre-Raphaelite if the viewer was unfamiliar with its origins?

3. Though Brett's work often includes a strong sense of scientific exploration, he was also a devout Christian until the late 1860s. Some of Brett's earlier works such as The Glacier and The Stonebreaker are "symbolic landscapes which attempt to reconcile religion with the findings of science" (Mike Hickox, "Science and Religion in the Pre-Raphaelite Work of John Brett"). What evidence, if any, is there in Rocks on the Foreshore that points to a change shift in Brett's religious beliefs?

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Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts John Brett paintings by artist

Last modified 16 September 2004